In Death at an Early Age, Louise
Day Hicks, head of the School Committee, claims that the Boston Public
School System is the least segregated in the nation. At a time when
the civil rights movement was at its height and throughout the land
violence was sweeping the cities, towns, and the schools, Boston was
supposedly an island of calm in the nation's turbulent storms. The truth
and the perception of the truth are two entirely different views. The
perception of the truth was that Boston was an island of calm. The truth
was that in Boston there existed a system of de facto segregation that
was just as sorry as any situation in the south.
The open enrollment policy of the BPS was
a failure. Hicks said any child in the City of Boston could enroll in
any school. Unfortunately this was not the case. African-American children
from the ghettos of Roxbury and Mattapan lacked the finances to transport
themselves out of their neighborhood to other schools. In cases where
the student could find the transportation, an enormous wall of bureaucratic
red tape had to be surmounted.
The condition of schools in white areas as
opposed to those in primarily black areas was striking. The William
Lloyd Garrison School was a building waiting to be torn down. There
were four classes in the auditorium. The basement smelled like a sewer.
Window panes fell with regularity. The only reason there were any repairs
during the year that Kozol taught there was that a TV crew was coming
in. Meanwhile schools such as Charlestown High were enjoying expansion
These two facts
in and of themselves prove Kozol's point that as long as people didn't see a problem,
it didn't exist. Hicks, in all probability, knew what was going on yet refused
to acknowledge the problem.